First off, many thanks to Ann Powers - the author of this article from NPR Music. I have semi neglected this blog as of late because I’ve A. been very busy and B. been taking pictures and focusing on that blog.
However, this article on the role of autobiographical story telling in pop music gave me an inspiration to write. Give this article a read - especially if you’re a fan of pop music like myself.
It got me thinking about how in depth my favorite pop stars go in their music, and what makes it real. There is a fine line for me in how much I want to know about the artist writing the music and singing the song. That is because that level of mystery creates the ability for me to relate to the music. I won’t always know what they were writing about, and that allows me to apply it to my life and create that movie moment.
However - how far do I want that to go? Do I want the artist to create a persona in order to write about certain things, or do I want them to strip everything away, and write from within and be as honest as possible. I’d say it’s a mix of both.
For instance, Taylor Swift, because of her media attention, we have an idea of what is going on in her day to day life, and her love and loss, and the rest of it that doesn’t matter to our own lives. Because of this, and other reasons, I have a hard time relating to her music. On the other hand, someone like Sara Bareilles, I don’t know what is going on in her life all of the time, and what movie star she is dating, and not knowing that allows that mystery to develop that when I listen to her songs, I can relate. On a different level, Adele has written one of the most honest and genuine albums of 2011, but there is still a smoke screen there in the sense that we don’t know this person the album is about, but we know how honest the lyrics are.
In the case of Beyonce, the persona has allowed her fan base to attach to her and her music, and relate. In the long run, they are a creation in order to do exactly this. There are songs when listening to her catalogue, that as much as I love them, I have a hard time believing that it is a life experience she has had. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the song and enjoy it immensely, it just means that my connections to Beyonce’s music verses say someone like Sara Bareilles or Adele are very different.
For me, this does remind me that pop music can, and does have substance. Now, I’m not saying that this is the case for all pop music, but it reminds me that pop music cannot be written off as useless non-art.
NPR Music did a great feature on “Purple Rain” and the impact it had on music in Minneapolis. I am fortunate enough to live in a fantastic city for both recorded and live music. First Ave is legendary here, and that has to do with Prince and this movie. Every day I appreciate how much music has come out of here, and how much this city lives and breathes music. As I am partaking in my Sunday tradition, I am thinking quite fondly of all the musical experiences I’ve had thanks to this city.
The picture posted above is of the band, The Civil Wars, consisting of Joy Williams and John Paul White. These two have slowly become one of my favorite bands in music. Having met at a song-writing session in Nashville in 2008, they were paired together to write some music, and after recognizing an immediate connection, they started exploring more of that musical relationship. Shortly there after, they were featured on “Grey’s Anatomy” and looking forward, have now achieved some wonderful success.
Their music is some of the most intimate I’ve heard, both lyrically and sonically. The connection that is formed when you hear these two sing together is unlike anything I’ve ever felt and heard. Over the last year or so, I’ve been exploring this duo, and my love for them continues to grow. This morning I sat down with my coffee and checked out NPR.org and found that they were featured on World Cafe a while back. This session of World Cafe explore The Civil Wars a bit more, and I was able to learn more about them as a band, and them individually. A certain factor in their music that makes me appreciate them more, is that they are not romantically invalid, and they talk about this on the session, but because of that, they are able to have conversations about their respective love lives, pull back the curtains and put them into song.
With their music, for me, this remarkably unique thing happens with every single song - chills. I can think of few albums that have this affect on me. Granted I have a plethora of albums that I connect with 90% of the songs, but there is always that one, two or three songs that don’t do it for me emotionally. Not the case with Joy Williams and John Paul White. The harmonies these two create and the way their lyrics sound, as well as the content matter, have resonated with me in ways that not all music can. They have this ability to bring music back to it’s most pure form, and that’s where this visceral reaction comes from, and where my love for their music rests.
I’ll end this post with a link to their session on World Cafe - do yourself a favor and check them out. ASAP.
My lovely Sunday morning tradition continues this week, and here I am, drinking my coffee and checking out NPR Music. This week I dedicated my time to listening to their latest installment of World Cafe with James Blake (linked above).
For those who don’t know, James Blake is an artist from the UK who oddly enough has created a beautiful fusion of soul and dubstep. Now, my first exposure to dubstep (judge away) came from Britney Spears’ first single off of “Femme Fatale” - “Hold It Against Me.” In the bridge of the song, there is a dubstep breakdown, and from then on I was enamored with the music movement.
In this session of World Cafe, Blake talks about how he never really thought about the idea that electronic music could be organic, or come from raw emotion. He wasn’t trying to deny the idea that it could, but he never even thought about it.
This got me thinking about how I never thought about electronic music in that light until very recently. For me, the genre of music that holds the most raw emotion, and that I connect to is soul music. That’s not saying there aren’t other forms of music, or other artists in different genres that I connect to. But I never got to the point where electronic music sparked that visceral reaction, or I never really connected to it. However, I started exploring electronic music a little while back, and that connection started popping up. A lot of that started when I bought James Blake’s self titled debut on a whim. That lead me to explore more music in that light, and it helped me recognize the raw emotional elements in music from electronic artists.
That connection that I reached with Blake’s music made me re-evaluate music from Robyn for instance, as well as other artists in the genre or similar genre’s, and I was able to see that organic element, as well as the emotional effort put into this realm of music
This exploration of electronic music has in turn inspired me to expand my musical horizons even more, and search out music, that probably even just a year ago, I wouldn’t have dedicated time to. This is both incredibly exciting and immensely overwhelming (there is so much music out there!!). However, I have time to continue to explore, it just means I’m gonna need a bigger hard-drive, and a bigger CD/Vinyl cabinet….hello Ikea.
Here’s a fascinating article from NPR Music about a new “technique” in pop music to cross racial boundaries - “Green-Eyed Soul.” This articles main focus is Adele’s recent success with her sophomore outing, “21.”
While I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the Motown era, and what that did not only for music, but the historical impact it left on our society, and how it blurred the race lines. In that era, “black” music was able to cross over to the pop charts for the first time. The power that cross over had is forever engrained in the legacy of Motown. That’s what draws me to that era of music so much, and part of where my passion for music comes from - that pure and unstoppable force of music.
Give the article a look over, and hopefully it will provoke some thoughts.
Sunday morning. Coffee in hand. NPR.com/music open.
This has become my routine on a weekly basis for the morning to wrap up my week. With the world in utter craziness around me, this routine creates stability and fulfills my passion for music (as well as my obsession with coffee). The articles I read change on a daily basis, but the feeling the emanates with this routine stays the same - and I love it.
In this case, the article explores the complexity of pop in the realm of my favorite women in the game - Gaga and Beyonce. It provides an interesting look into both of their new releases, Gaga’s “Judas” and Beyonce’s “Run The World (Girls).”
Sit back with coffee, put on your favorite morning music, and enjoy.